While tidal energy, wave energy, and “small hydro” energy are still too expensive as a mainstream sources of power, they are showing potential as solutions for remote communities where the cost of conventional energy is high. If villages are on the coast, or near a fast-rushing river, they could consider investing in a small water turbine, rather than importing fuel from faraway.
A German engineering team has one possible idea: the Mobile Hydro. A simple floating rubber ring with three rotors inside, it doesn’t offer huge energy potential. But it is portable and does provide continuous power, unlike other renewables that don’t generate energy when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow.
The device is moored to the bank and uses the natural swirling of a river to turn its blades. A generator captures the energy and transfers power back to the bank, where a battery and transformer kit awaits.
“The main target is isolated areas without grid connections. In a few steps, local energy providers, small business holders, farmers, and households can produce electricity at minimum costs,” says Andreas Zeiselmair.
Zeiselmair and his colleagues Markus Heinsdorff and Christoph Helf are currently working on a second prototype and hope to have a full product ready by the end of this year. They’re aiming for continuous power output of 300 watts, which is enough to power a fridge or TV, or about 60 phone chargers.
Next year, they plan to carry out pilot projects in Latin America, East Africa, and India. “It is very mobile,” adds Zeiselmair. “It’s light-weight with a small packing size, which makes it perfect if you’re changing locations a lot.”
Mobile Hydro was a national winner in this year’s James Dyson Award. An overall winner is announced November 6.